Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Canon

On Black Friday we waded through the throng of dazed shoppers milling in the aisles of the Newington Best Buy to pick up a new camera. I think she employee who helped us was relieved to find a customer who next exactly what he wanted. Our new camera is a Canon Power Shot SX20. It will take some time getting used to the upgrade from my simple old point and shoot Kodak but I think it will be fun.

I took these shots today at the little park next to the Saco River in North Conway. There's finally a good amount of snow on Washington and the rest of the peaks. I don't mind that it hasn't started gathering in the Valley yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mount Jackson is Dedicated to Kozmo

We would be honored to have you hike Mt. Jackson in memory of our first and beloved Golden, Kozmo…Kozie, Kman, Sir Kozmos Mariner, Evil Doodies, the Mayor... the nicknames for him were endless! He was our “first born” (before our 3 sons) and the countless photo albums of just him say it all! Mt. Jackson was the first 4,000 footer that Kozie hiked back on Oct 3, 1998. Coincidently, Jackson is a town we now live in and it was Kozie’s final home. There isn’t a day that goes by here in the mountains that we don’t think of him on the trails. This was his home and he was his happiest when walking in the woods with us and his old green tennis ball or a stick. It wasn’t just any stick he would find and carry; the sticks were closer to the size of tree trunks! He talked all the time and had a way of communicating without ever having to bark. When he was really happy or saying hello he would sound like a mooing cow. He was a funny dog with a personality unlike any other I’ve ever met. His loss to cancer was devastating to our family.

We thank you Tom for finding such a worthy cause to support. We thank you Tom for all that you do and who you are. We thank you Tom and little Atti for inspiring us - we are so glad that you are in this world and even more so, our friends here in Jackson.

Be Safe!
Onward & Upward,
The Hagerty Family (Jenny, Shawn, Logan, Aidan, Quinn, Molly, Bo-Bo, Paco and Grampy Joe)

Another Death on Mount Washington

Mount Washington continues to be one of the deadliest mountains in the country. Another death was announced today. WMUR has the story here.

According to the Mount Washington Observatory website, more than 135 people have died on the mountain that resides less than 10 miles up the road from us. The website has a
list of all fatalities here. So far two people have died on Mount Washington this year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carter Dome Will Be Hiked For Fargo

"We adopted Fargo from the SPCA in Stratham, New Hampshire in January 1997. A week after we lost our sweet golden retriever Bradie to cancer, we stopped at the SPCA on a Saturday. Fargo was there as a stray. He had been tied to the door of the SPCA in a snowstorm, with no note, no information. Fargo came home with us – it took us just a few hours to come up with his name, but it fit perfectly. Fargo became a great hiking companion. A year later we acquired a German shepherd puppy, Aria, and they loved each other. We hiked many trails and numerous peaks together, including the Carters. Everyone loved Fargo. Once someone left a note on our car windshield while we were in a grocery store, that said, “You must love this dog, he has the most beautiful face.” Sadly we lost Fargo to cancer in October 2007, a disease that takes far too many dogs. We know the importance of places like MSPCA-Angell to dogs and their owners. Thank-you." Given by Ellen and Srini.

(You can see more photos of Fargo here, on Ellen Snyder's fine website,

Make A Difference For Animals In Need: Join Our Unforgettable Winter Quest

Starting on the Winter Solstice (December 21st), Atticus and I will attempt to hike each of the 48 4,000-footers during the 90 days of winter. We're undertaking this quest to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center, the great non-profit. Each year MSPCA Angell helps more than 200,000 animals in need. They once helped Atticus, and this is our way to give something back to this amazing collection of good-hearted folks.

Our first goal is one we hope to reach before winter even begins: we'd like to have each of the mountains dedicated by the first day of winter. So far so good. We already have 16 peaks taken. To learn how to dedicate one of the remaining 32 peaks to a special animal,
click here.

Today we received a dedication for our first cat, which was something we had quite a few of last time around. Cat lovers, you are way behind the dog lovers so get a move on. Even if you don't have a pet, you may have at one time. Make a donation to his or her memory. Or give a mountain to a friend who has a beloved animal.

Once you make a dedication you'll have a front row seat to what will surely be an unforgettable adventure.

These are the peaks still open for sponsorship:

Adams (5774 ft)
Jefferson (5712 ft)
Madison (5367 ft)
Lafayette (5260 ft)

South Twin (4902 ft)
Eisenhower (4780 ft)
North Twin (4761 ft)
Bond (4698 ft)
Middle Carter (4610 ft)
West Bond (4540 ft)
Garfield (4500 ft)
South Carter (4430 ft)
South Kinsman (4358 ft)
Field (4340 ft)
Osceola (4340 ft)
Flume (4328 ft)
Pierce (4310 ft)
North Kinsman (4293 ft)
Willey (4285 ft)
Bondcliff (4265 ft)
Zealand (4260 ft)
North Tripyramid (4180 ft)
Cabot (4170 ft)
East Osceola (4156 ft)
Middle Tripyramid (4140 ft)
Tom (4051 ft)
Wildcat D (4050 ft)

Passaconaway (4043 ft)
Owls Head (4025 ft)
Galehead (4024 ft)
Waumbek (4006 ft)
Isolation (4003 ft)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Can I Get An 'Amen'?

Back in Newburyport a few years ago, one of our city councilors couldn’t believe I believed in God but didn’t go to church. She said, “Ryan, if you had to choose a religion, which one would it be?”

“I don’t have a favorite,” I told her.

“But say you had to choose just one. Which one would it be?”

“I don’t have to choose just one. That’s the beauty of it.”

“But say God made you choose a church to go to, which one would you go to?”

“I don’t think God would make me choose a church.”

She was now getting frustrated. “But what if he did? What if he said you had to choose a religion – which one would you choose?”

I paused for a moment, making her wait. I then looked her in the eye and said, “If I had to claim one belief I’d say I was a pantheist.”

This was too much for her. “You’re disgusting!” she said, before marching off.

A couple of days later I ran into her husband. “Why would you treat my wife like that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would you be so disgusting to her when she was asking you about religion?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about and told him so.

“When she asked you which religion you’d choose, you said you worshipped panties.”

What my not-always bright friends who switched churches every few years, the last time because their church became open and affirming to gays and lesbians, didn’t understand was that like Christ, Mohammad, Buddha and Lao Tse, I find my connection to God through nature. I like it best that way; there’s no middle man.

So recently, during a moment of heartache, when a friend invited me to church here in Jackson, I politely declined and instead drove over to Black Mountain. We started out early in the morning and crossed the frozen field next to the parking lot. The air was cold, crisp and clean. Immediately I felt better. Atticus, healthy again, bounced happily along the white path, leaving his footprints in the frost.

It was wonderful to step into the woods and away from the world. We passed deeper and deeper into the forest, crossing a small stream, hopping from rock to rock, stepping through leaves dry and wet, across roots smooth and slick, and along the frozen trail. The forest welcomed us home and with each step the world let go of us.

Before I knew myself, November was my least favorite month. It followed the fiery colors of autumn when trees are at their finest, and preceded the magic of the first snow and the festive draw of December’s holidays. It seemed a lonely month; a void, if you will, between two special seasons. It’s taken many walks with Atticus for me to appreciate the magic of the November woods, when all pageantry is stripped away. There’s no foliage; no snow-covered conifers.

As we climbed Black Mountain that early morning hour we left behind the sound of cars and the hustle and bustle of the human world. We listened instead to the wind weave its way through trees bare but not barren. They swayed in the chilly air, creaking, moaning, whispering. As to what they were saying, I think that, like beauty, is up to the interpreter. I’m sure you’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, I think the same can be said for the message received from the song of the trees on the way up a mountain.

I woke that morning with heartache and on the way up the mountain that ache was replaced by the resolute beat of my working heart as it pumped blood to my limbs. The higher we climbed, the harder I worked, the deeper I breathed, the more my heart pumped. And there, there in the middle of our climb, I could feel Nature take hold of me and wash my worries away.

Nothing puts things in perspective quite like a walk in the woods. That and watching a little dog bound up the trail, pulling me along with a will that far outweighs his body. In the woods I become a student. Nature strips me naked, and then builds me back up again, putting things in perspective. And I’ve always felt that animals are far more at ease in the woods than we are – so what could be better than following my little talisman up that peak, into the heart of Nature, and out of the trials and tribulations that were weighing me down? He seems to know when I need the mountains and when I need him to lead me. And he takes his job seriously. He has a steadfast seriousness about him when in nature. Like it’s his job to see me to where I need to go.

There are two viewpoints on Black Mountain. The first is at a locked cabin (you can rent it out). Earlier this year the view from the cabin towards Mount Washington was cluttered by the trees. But here in November we could see through the woods. Then, on top of the mountain, there’s a more dramatic view towards Washington, but also towards the Wildcats, Carter Notch and the Carters. Most people approach Carter Dome from Route 16, but here in back of it, the view is far more dramatic and the mountain seems far more impressive.

As always we took our time on top, Atticus nudging me to lift him up so he could see over the brush. We settled into the views and our thoughts and stayed for quite a while.

A few days later the Town of Jackson held a Topping Off Ceremony where they placed a tree on top of their newly framed library. While there, I had my first chance to hear the minister of my friend’s church. He was enthusiastic, bold, loud and very animated. And I, still remembering my walk up Black Mountain, was thrilled to have chosen to listen to the song of the trees instead of his sermon in church.

In his essay “Nature”, Emerson wrote: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

Can I get an ‘amen’?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Atticus M. Finch on Animal Planet's Dogs 101 (Repeat)

In case you missed it, the Dogs 101 episode featuring Atticus airs again this Saturday night at 8:00 and 11:00 on the Animal Planet network. I've still not seen it yet but a friend is sending a disc to me this week in the mail.

The episode originally aired on October 1oth and brought many new readers to our blog. That weekend there were several thousand hits. About 10 days ago it ran again and once again the hits on the site spiked right after the show.

So, in case I haven't said it before, welcome to our new readers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Following Atticus Across the Winter Wilderness for a Great Cause

This is one of my favorite places in the Winter Whites – Mount Guyot.

There’s no easy way to get there. We’ve passed over it three times in winter, always on a Bonds Traverse. Guyot sits between West Bond and Zealand. And the only way you can reach it is by walking 23 miles across the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Some consider this hike more audacious than a Presidential Traverse because there are no bail out points on this hike. Once you’ve come so far, you’re committed to going all the way.

The first time we did this traverse we walked from the Route 302 in the north down to Lincoln Woods along the Kancamagus Highway. We were caught in surprising blizzard-like conditions and a blinding snow drifted knee and hip deep. It was the only time I ever thought we might die on a mountain.

The next time we did it was later the same winter. It was the same route, but instead of hiking just Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff we also threw in Hale. Unfortunately, upon approaching the summit of Hale, I felt weak and sick to my stomach. I dropped my pack below the summit, realizing I would not be able to go on, and when I tagged the summit I got very sick. I stumbled down Hale that day and was getting ready to go back to the car I’d dropped in the parking area off of Route 302.

I got down to the bottom of the mountain and I sat for a while and thought about why we were attempting to hike the 48 twice that winter. It was because my friend Vicki Pearson died of cancer and this was our tribute to her. We were raising funds for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in her name.

Sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, I realized in the end there wasn’t a day that went by when Vicki didn’t feel like vomiting. That was enough to make me continue on my way. Strangely enough we finished the traverse in a very good time and after a few miles I no longer felt sick.

The third time we did the traverse we walked in the opposite direction, from the Kancamagus up to Route 302. Once again we added in Hale. It was a long day and we didn’t see another soul the entire time. It was an eerily calm before the storm kind of day. You can see it in the photo above. The clouds grew thick and beheaded some of the higher peaks and yet there’s Atticus, plodding along without caring about the gathering storm.

One of the reasons I love this photo so is because of the way it shows the scope of Atticus among the mountains. Here he is in the middle of a 25 mile hike over five 4,000-foot peaks. It’s clear he’s focused, but also comfortable, and right at home.

He’s the little dog who would and could.

When I’m tired and I see his little body moving forward like this I remind myself I can do nearly anything with him by my side.

So now that you see some of the lengths this little dog is willing to go to help animals in need at Angell Animal Medical Center, just how far are you willing to go?

You have it easy. You can sit home and watch Atticus’ progress from the comfort of your warm home this winter. All you have to do is pick a peak, make a donation and sit back and watch Atticus lead you through an unforgettable winter. And when he’s doing this, remember he was once a patient at Angell, relying on the kindness of strangers when he was battling what we thought was cancer. I was so moved by the way this non-profit organization fill everyone with hope – especially when it is most needed – I knew then and there I’d do my best to support them whenever I could. It’s one of the reasons we’ll be donating a portion of the author’s royalties from book sales of ‘Following Atticus’ to Angell Animal Medical Center.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mount Liberty is dedicated to Sasha

Sarah George is dedicating Mount Liberty to Sasha. Here's what Sarah writes about her friend:

Sasha began her life as an “Army brat” at Fort Knox, KY in 2005, ten days before Christmas. Her daddy was a Jack Russell/Beagle mix and her mama, a Basset Hound from Texas who pushed out twelve babies! Sasha soon grew accustomed to the booming of tank rounds and 50 cal.’s from the nearby training fields that rattled our house often. When my husband completed his military obligation, we settled back in Massachusetts with our favorite new companion. Sasha is a great teacher (and tester!) of patience and reminds us daily to not take life too seriously… for there is always an open field, a wooded trail, a quiet swimming hole, a windy car ride or an old ragged toy just waiting to fill us with giddy contentment. We wish Sasha a long, happy, healthy life with us on this earth and dedicate Liberty to her in hopes of someday hiking it! Thanks Tom and Atticus!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Atticus is back to normal

Atticus is back to his normal heathly self. I'll post an update soon on how we fixed his problem. He wanted me to remind you that we will be at the Whitney Center here in Jackson next Tuesday, November 17th. We go on at 7:00 p.m.

Susan Dunker-Bendigo, our wonderful librarian, wrote the following in the current JPL monthly newsletter:

The program in November will feature local author Tom Ryan along with his dog Atticus, talking about their life together, hikes they have made to raise money for Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, and Tom's forthcoming book. Tom and Atticus are regular visitors to the library and are well known around town. Don't miss this entertaining evening which will serve as a fundraiser for the new library. We'll serve cake and coffee and ask for a suggested donation of $5 at the door. We thank Tom for his willingness to help out the library! This will take place at the Whitney Community Center at 7pm on Tuesday November 17th at 7pm. Tom assures me that no one will come, so prove me right and come out in droves to get to know this interesting duo!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Health Issues Continue for Atticus

As you read in the most recent post, in a two night span we went to the North Conway Animal Hospital on an overnight emergency visit and then spent an 18 degree night in the car.

Yesterday, Atticus wanted nothing to do with the house and he showed a great deal of fear throughout attempts to get him in here. Therefore we spent most of our time away from the house. When we returned mid afternoon, he was agitated but he calmed down a great deal. I felt we may have been through whatever problems have been plaguing him here. Since I hadn’t slept for the better part of 48 hours we went to bed around 4:00 p.m. yesterday and we slept well.

Actually, we slept well for about three hours. Just after 7:00 p.m. Atticus woke up in a panic again. He could barely breathe, was extremely agitated; and he wanted out of the house in the worst possible way.

I took him around the house room-by-room to show him there were no problems. I let him see me looking under beds, checking closets and opening drawers. We walked down into the cellar. None of it mattered. If he calmed down it was barely and only for a handful of seconds. It was clear we had to get out of the house again.

Luckily Atticus and I have made an elderly friend who lives down the road about a mile and she offered us the space of an unused bedroom in her condo for a few nights. That’s where we spent the night - without incident.

When we returned here this morning we were inside for less than 30 seconds before Atticus wanted out again. We went for a long walk and now we’re back. He’s currently sitting in the front seat of the car, the driver’s side door is open, and so is the front door of the house. I’m typing this from the front steps. It’s clear he doesn’t want to come up on the steps or into the house. He seems calm and happy lying down on his fleece blanket just feet away.

The strange thing about all of this is that the medical tests showed nothing wrong. And he shows no ill effects whenever we are away from the house, even if it is just five feet away from the front steps as he is now. For six months we've lived here and he hasn't had an issue until the last 72 hours.

Tomorrow morning the landlords are sending someone to look at the boiler. We shut the boiler down two days ago and the gas has been off for 24 hours.

In a bit we’ll leave here and drive to our friend’s place again. That’s where we’ll spend the next night or so.

A big thank you to all who have contacted me about Atticus. Please know that so long as we are out of the house he shows no ill-effects and you’d have no idea that something was amiss. Hopefully this mystery will be taken care of in the next few days and we can get back to a normal life where I write and he sleeps on the chair next to me in my writing room.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Column for the Northcountry News: Some Trails We Just Won't Do

We slept in the car last night. It was 18 degrees out.

We don’t make a habit of sleeping in my Honda Fit; and I hope to never have to do again. But I did it for Atticus.

Two nights ago he woke me up just before 3:00 a.m. He had a panicked look on his face, the kind he gets on the rare occasions he wakes up in the middle of the night and really needs to go to the bathroom. I let him outside. He walked to the middle of the backyard and sat down. Ten minutes later we returned to the bedroom. He woke up a short time later in more of a panic, his body trembling, his eyes wild, his tongue out. He was nudging me with his nose. He wanted me to get up. I got dressed and brought him outside again. This time we took a walk and he was fine. Forty minutes later we settled into bed again. A minute later Atticus was nudging me, acting strangely, this time worse than before.

Luckily Dr. Christine O’Connell at the North Country Animal Hospital is on call 24 hours a day. We called and half an hour later Dr. O’Connell was checking Atticus out: temperature; blood work; ultrasound. Other than gaining a couple of pounds due to his numerous new friends in Jackson and their generosity with treats, he is in good health. We were mystified. I was told to keep my eye on him.

Upon returning to the house the symptoms started again. I opened up the windows, aired out the house and called the landlord. White Mountain Gas showed up in a bit. No gas leaks. We shut off the boiler thinking it may be carbon dioxide kicking back into the house. (However, the carbon monoxide detector was running and quiet.) With the windows open and boiler off, Atticus calmed down. All was well until late last night when the temperatures plummeted. Even though the boiler was off Atticus became nearly wild. His trembling turned into something near a seizure. I opened the windows and he and I took a long walk. As soon as we were outside the house he was fine. When we returned the same thing occurred. We tried sleeping in the master bedroom, the guest bedroom, the den and the living room. Each time Atti’s discomfort was clearly visible. He wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible.

I knew there was nothing my landlords could do at that late hour back in their Massachusetts’ home so I decided not to bother them. I gathered a couple of pillows and comforters and Atticus and I went out to the car. As the car iced over, he slept well. I can’t say the same.

What does all of this have to do with a hiking column?


Dogs are like children. If you have them they are your responsibility. If you love them you’ll do anything for them. Even if 'anything' means spending an 18 degree night in a Honda Fit just down the road from Mount Washington.

Just yesterday I read an on-line trip report about a woman who is attempting to get her dog to finish the 48 4,000-footers. (This is a different woman from my last column.) She had already finished the list but she wanted to make sure her dog became a member of the AMC’s 4,000-Footer Club and received the patch and scroll. Their last peak was to be North Tripyramid.

Now North Tripyramid is not the most challenging of peaks, but you still have to work to get to it. It sits quite humbly in the middle of the Sandwich Mountain Range with its siblings Middle and South Tripyramid and you can see where they got their name from the moment you lay eyes on them (which is something you can do from the Waterville Valley ski slopes).

There are numerous approaches, but there is one I’ve never been on. It climbs a slippery and steep slide up North Tripyramid. It’s one of the few trails I refuse to bring Atticus on. (The others are the Huntington Ravine Trail and the Flume Slide Trail.) I think he could probably hike each of these, but there’s always a chance there could be trouble. So why chance it? Why put my friend through that even though he’s climbed some 500 peaks in the last four years?

I know very little about this woman, her dog or the relationship between them. I’ve never met them. From her on-line reports it’s clear she loves her dog dearly. But see, that’s what confuses me. One slip on such a trail and the dog could be terribly hurt – or worse.

I know some other dogs have done the trail, but I don’t see the point in it. I know some hikers love the challenge of climbing the North Tripyramid Slide and I guess they figure the dog will love the challenge too. I guess.

People tell me, “You don’t know what you’re missing. You’ll love climbing the slide!”

Sorry, it’s not going to happen. I think I’ve climbed the Tripyramids at least seven times and I’ve tried numerous beautiful approaches. All were rewarding. More importantly, Atticus was safe on each of the approaches.

There are many great things about these mountains, including the joy and inspiration they bring. Atticus loves it here, but he also always has a say. We turn back when he wants to, even though that’s only happened a few times. We don’t hike when he doesn’t want to. Twice we showed up at trailheads on very cold days and he refused to get out of the car. We didn’t hike. Last fall we were climbing the Hale Brook Trail and when we came to the first stream crossing it was running harder than usual. Now Atticus can leap this deep gully easily enough but on this day the water bothered him. I offered to pick him up and carry him over. He wanted none of that. Instead he lay down as a sign that says, “Don’t pick me up.” And so I didn’t. We turned back. We returned the next day. Same thing happened. On the third day he leaped over it without a second thought.

It’s important to me that he has a choice.

This does not make me a better dog owner than the other person. But I do think I pay more attention to what Atticus likes and dislikes, his needs and safety requirements, than most dog owners do. Perhaps that is a product of the time we spend together, which is more than most people spend with their dogs.

As for the woman who wants to make sure her dog gets a 4,000-footer patch and scroll, they didn’t make it up North Tripyramid on a cloudy, slippery day on those treacherous slabs. The dog eventually said ‘enough is enough’ and that was it. Smart move. I was glad she listened to her dog after it sent her several signals. But I guess she wasn’t listening all that well because she reported they would return for another attempt this weekend – dangers of the slabs be damned!

While I’m sorry for her dog, I’m happy for this woman. I’m pleased she’ll never know what it’s like to sleep in a Honda Fit on a November night when it is 18 degrees out.

Friday, November 06, 2009

North & South Hancock will be hiked for Gus & Harley

Here's the dedication as written by Nancy & Mike Lindberg:

Gus is a 13 1/2 year old schnauzer who has been our personal trainer since coming to share our lives as a puppy. He has helped raise our sons and keep us well trained through his constant vigilance. Due to age and health problems his hiking days are behind him, but his spirit could still soar to the top with Atticus. We'd like to dedicate Hancock to him. Our other dog is an age-indeterminate yellow lab named Harley. He was found by us just after returning from our trip to the Whites to conquer Mt Washington in 2004. We grabbed Gus and went for a stroll in our local woods only to come across a very dejected lab who promptly saw Gus and us and lay down with his head on his paws to await our approach. He looked in terrible shape (overweight, sores oozing on his feet) but realized we were his salvation and marched over a mountain (a small one!) to get in our car and come home with us. Gus was never a fan of dogs in general but seemed to sense a felllow in need and showed no animosity at this invasion. After a week in the pound and advertisement of a lost dog Harley came home to us. We only can conclude that he was abandoned and he has dedicated his being to letting us know how much he loves us on a daily basis. We would like to dedicate South Hancock to him. It is only fair that Gus gets the taller mountain.